The forces of darkness (aka investor-owned Utilities) have been plotting a coordinated nation-wide assault on rooftop solar since 2012. Battles have already been waged in a number of state legislatures with the Utilities winning (and consumers losing!) all too many of them. Those wins were all secured with the help of special interest money.
One such battle took place in Indiana in 2015, with the first round being won by consumers due to strong grassroots opposition to a blatantly sweetheart deal for the Utilities. However, this “win” was by a decision, at best, and the Utilities ARE bound to come out swinging in the next round in 2016.
The mission of The Fauxton Report is to shed light on the Utilities’ war on rooftop solar and on the scourge of special interest money in our political system. Tune in to The Fauxton Report frequently for further episodes and updates.
INDIANAPOLIS – Today the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission denied Duke Energy Indiana’s request for nearly $1.9B from captive ratepayers. In their final order, the IURC cited a lack of evidence as well as insufficient cost estimates to justify the expenditures. The IURC also noted the ineligibility of many projects under the controversial Transmission Distribution and Storage Improvement Charge (TDSIC) statute, such as a $1.5 million customer contact software system, a $3 million “energy learning center,” and $48.5 million in vegetation management, more commonly referred to as tree-trimming. Similarly, the IURC also denied Indiana Michigan (I&M) Power Company’s $787 million TDSIC plan today.
The TDSIC statute was the result of Senate Enrolled Act 560 which passed the Indiana General Assembly in 2013. The legislation was written and supported by the Indiana Energy Association, the monopoly utilities’ trade association. CAC has advocated for the repeal of SEA 560, which shifts the risk from utility investors to the ratepayers and puts onerous timelines on the IURC to act within 300 days or else the utilities are allowed to “self-implement” rate increases.
Duke’s proposal included a $177 million request to install expensive, invasive, and unnecessary smart meters in every home and business in their Indiana service territory. They also requested to continue to earn a return on the investment for the old meters they were going to remove while simultaneously recovering the costs (plus a rate of return) of the new smart meters.
Kerwin Olson, Executive Director at CAC, stated “I’ve seen more detail in most elementary students’ math homework. Duke thought they could cram through this expensive, unnecessary plan after they paid for the passage of this dangerous legislation. The denial of both the Duke and the I&M filings under the law clearly displays that SEA 560 is a horrific piece of public policy that should be repealed by the Indiana General Assembly as soon as possible.”
“The IURC showed true leadership today. CAC praises the IURC for its courageous action and we highly commend the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and our industry allies for their leadership and collaboration in this case.”
Eco-friendliness and personal finance are essentially cousins. Not only are our environmental and financial necessities aligned – providing ourselves with sustainable clean drinking water and nutritious sustenance, for example – but we also spend money on both the household and government levels in support of environmental security.
Then there’s climate change. We’ve already seen a rise in powerful land-bearing storm systems and extreme droughts, with New York and New Jersey recently spending $71.4 billion to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy. But that’s just the beginning, as storm surges and other bad weather are expected to cause more than $500 billion in property damage by the year 2100. Climate change will also have a direct impact on our military-industrial complex, as nearly all of our East Coast air and naval installations are vulnerable to sea-level rise.
In the meantime, we can all try to do our part to save the world for our kids, grandkids and future generations. In order to help highlight this important issue as well as all states taking steps to care for the environment and call out those doing a poor job, WalletHub compared each of the 50 states in terms of 14 key metrics designed to illustrate each place’s environmental quality and the eco-friendliness of its policies.
April 13, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
“Fiasco” is really the only way to describe the whole situation with Duke Energy’s ill fated coal gasification plant at Edwardsport, IN.
First the plant was promised to cost $1.2 billion and be “carbon capture” ready Duke executives travelled the state and nation gathering political support for their project in 2004. Today, that price tag has grown to more than $4 billion and the size of the plant was actually reduced but does not have carbon capture at all. Duke’s Indiana ratepayers are on the hook for nearly $3+ billion.
Carbon capture, according to the Department of Energy and others, adds about 50% to the overall capital cost of a gasifier and has a “parasitic energy use” of 25-40% when it is operated.
But not only has Duke been horribly wrong on their projections of cost, they have failed completely in their desire to have the plant fully operational, having claimed it “in service” nearly two years ago when they began charging their customers hefty fees to pay for the plant and its operation. The chart below shows their failure graphically for the period June, 2013 to January, 2015. The bottom line is that Duke’s customers have continued to get screwed paying excessive rates for an plant that does not work as planned even close to two years after they said it would be fully operational.
It should be noted that Valley Watch, together with Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition and Save the Valley have fought this plant, using the arguments that have sadly come to pass, since its inception.
April 5, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
Thirty-five years ago, the “most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite ran a story on his nightly newscast regarding global warming and climate change. Since then hundreds pf scientific studies have been done confirming a warming planet and sometimes dire predictions of the future. Today, the heads of Congress’s environmental committees are climate deniers who are seeking to relegate the nation one the Earth to what could be significant horrors of disastrous weather events and environmental dislocation. Sadly, the world seems so addicted to fossil fuels that any sort of fix for this imminent problem remains elusive.
April 1, 2015 – by IEEFA.org. Editor’s note: Valley Watch spent the greater part of two years in the middle of the last decade trying to inform various municipal electric utilities throughout the midwest that they would end up in trouble if they bought into the nefarious Prairie State Generating Station. Unfortunately, for reasons mainly connected to a combination of greed and naivete, they refused to listen, opting instead to place their economic futures in the hands of Peabody Energy and the head of the Indiana Municipal Power Agency who were promoting the plant as a means to get supposed cheap energy. Had they listened and acted on what Valley Watch was telling them, they would not have found themselves in the dire straits we predicted a decade ago.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch picks up the latest Prairie State Energy Campus story in an overnight piece distributed nationally via McClatchy News Service.
The article, by Jacob Barker, describes the lawsuit filed earlier this month by the town of Hermann, Mo., which is seeking to end its ties to the overpriced, underperforming coal-fired plant. Parker notes also that “Peabody and the other backers” still argue that Prairie State will one day produce reliable, affordable electricity, a stance Hermann Mayor Tom Shabel says in the Post-Dispatch article is not credible: “I don’t believe that anybody with an IQ above their shoe size believes that for a New York minute.”
Barker notes that Hermann “isn’t the first to complain of electricity prices that turned out to be much higher than what was pitched.” Batavia, Ill, has sued Indiana’s public power agency and Marceline, Mo., was able to get out of its contract in 2013 after threatening legal action.
“‘We tried to negotiate with them,’Shabel said. ‘It was destroying the city, this relationship. We’ve lost close to $1 million in the last year. … The only way you can negotiate with MoPEP or MJMEUC is to have some sort of club over their head.’”
“Originally pitched by St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the coal company has since reduced its stake in the power plant and adjacent mine complex to 5 percent. The rest is owned by public power agencies, including those in Missouri and Illinois, whose members are on the hook for power purchases.”
The explosion of glyphosate use in recent years has been driven primarily by the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybeans. These GMO plants have been genetically engineered to withstand blasts of this powerful herbicide and kill the weeds around them. The use of glyphosate in the U.S. has increased by more 500 million pounds between 1996 and 2011.
According to an article in the Lancet, “[Glyphosate] use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties. Glyphosate has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food.”
Scientists from 11 nations met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, earlier this month to assess the likelihood that certain pesticides used in industrial agriculture would cause cancer.
They decided to classify glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen,” a conclusion that built on IARC’s conclusion last year that some evidence linked glyphosate to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Because farmers have relied so heavily on glyphosate, many of them are now dealing with “superweeds” – varieties of weeds that no longer die when sprayed – and are turning to more toxic weed killers like 2,4-D. Dow’s Enlist Duo is a mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D.
Some members of Congress are fighting to deny you that right. They’ve introduced legislation, dubbed the Deny Americans the Right Know (DARK) Act by opponents, that would block state GMO labeling laws and restrict FDA’s ability to require national GMO labeling
March 12, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
For the second day in a row, air quality in Evansville deteriorated to “unhealthy” levels and still no alerts. What goes here?
Actually the level got all the way to 45.3µg/m3 at 8 PM last night which was the warmest day of the year so far so we can be assured that people were outside, including kids vigorously exercising and subjecting themselves to a wide array of health issues that exist when air quality reaches those levels.
So once again the brain trust at the Evansville EPA and IDEM failed to notify the public with an air pollution alert as the air thickened today in Evansville. On the eastside it was worse than downtown and I did not drive to the northside where the monitor is located. Here is a screen shot taken from the monitor page a few minutes ago which shows the levels exceeding the weak 24 hour standard but if you were out today, you know it was not a good day to breathe in Eville. I am left to wonder if those who are paid well to protect us give a crap about that and are only engaged in protecting the polluters.
March 10, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
Last night after the news was disclosed that Indiana Gasification had dropped their plans for a coal gasification plant in Rockport, I was asked by WEHT to come in to discuss that situation and more. Here is that interview:
March 9, 2015 = by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
First, I must say Hooray!!! Perseverance of real people fighting for their health and communities win a big one, beating back a ridiculous project that reeked of crony capitalism and corruption in the State of Indiana. Last, week, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management “revoked” the Title V and Operating permit for Indiana Gasification.
I first learned about plans for a project called IGLLC from a press release issued on October 27, 2006 by then Governor, Mitch Daniels. Daniels outlined an ambitious schedule for the project’s development which called for the plant to be in operation by 2010.
Valley Watch, of course, opposed the project almost as soon as it was known and joined by others, including Citizens Action Coalition, Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life and Sierra Club came forth in a formidable coalition to oppose the plant. Vectren, the gas supplier for much of the state also joined the coalition during legislative battles in 2012 and 2013.
Also, along the way, several pieces of legislation were passed to ease the progress of IGLLC’s owner, Leucadia National Corp., including laws that gave them eminent domain authority and the big one that made the State of Indiana its only customer, while requiring all the state’s residential and commercial gas consumers to pay a fixed cost more than twice the price of natural gas just for the privilege of getting their gas from coal.
IGLLC had also been awarded the right to pursue a Federal “Loan Guarantee” to the tune of $2.8 billion plus the cost of constructing a 400+ mile pipeline to transport carbon dioxide from the plant to Jackson, Mississippi. Today, I was happy to inform the US Department of Energy’s front man for the project the permit had been revoked. Presumably that Loan Guarantee prospect will also go away.
IGLLC caused me more than a few restless nights. From its inception, I was concerned that the political skids were so greased that it would be extremely difficult to stop the plant even though I also knew that its economics were doomed from the start. And that was when the price for natural gas stood at around $9/mmbtu and later rose to around $13 in 2008 when the plant was endorsed by the Rockport City Council (see video above).
But I also knew that perseverance and organizing were the only things that can beat back a stupid idea that had so much political support.
First, Valley Watch helped organize a cadre of local citizens who called themselves, Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life. Already, people in and around Rockport knew that the prognostications of jobs and wealth for the community were not to be trusted. Already, those people had experienced the massive pollution and mistruths they had heard about both the AEP Rockport Power Plant and AK Steel. Already, Rockport was one of the largest, toxic zones in the world due to an enormous level of toxic pollution emitted from those two facilities.
Valley Watch and SCCQOL working together with Citizens Action Coalition and later the Sierra Club, began to challenge every aspect of the plant, holding informational seminars and regular monthly meetings designed to show that “the people” did not want the plant built and would not allow it to happen.Continue reading →
Paying $2.45 for a gallon of gas is a lot more of a bargain than it sounds.
If you took into account the health and environmental costs of burning fuel, finds a new study from Duke University, the price for a gallon of regular would jump by $3.80.
The study, which is published in the journal Climatic Change, isn’t showing us how much gas should cost, but how much it actually does cost — once you factor in the “social costs.” Author Drew T. Shindell, a professor of climate sciences, adapted the model used by the U.S. government to determine the social cost of carbon for the gas pumps to unearth hidden costs like air pollution, healthcare costs, lowered crop yields and damages from extreme weather events tied to climate change.
From that perspective, the price of diesel increases from $2.90 to $7.70, natural gas doubles, and then some, from 7 cents per kilowatt to 17 cents, and energy bills for coal-fired electricity quadruple, from 10 to 42 cents per kilowatt-hour. Shindell’s model assigns little to no cost to nuclear and renewables, so they remain steady at about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
It changes the relative value of our various fuel sources considerably:
“We think we know what the prices of fossil fuels are, but their impacts on climate and human health are much larger than previously realized,” Shindell said in a statement. ”We’re making decisions based on misleading costs.”
Even the most careful models, of course, are just estimates — it’s hard to factor in every potential cost, or to know with precision what exactly the extent of climate impacts will be. “But one thing there should be no debate over,” Shindell said, “is that the current assigned price of zero is not the right value.”
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email email@example.com.
February 26, 2015 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor.
In a rather surprising moment in the annals of Indiana legislative politics, Hoosier safe energy and environmental advocates had two big victories at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday 2/25/15.
First it was announced by Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, Brian Bosma that the nefarious House Bill 1320 would not be presented to the entire house as Bosma pulled it from floor action on the final day for it to be read and heard.
The Bill, supported only by Indiana’s Investor Owned Utilities would have essentially stopped solar and other “distributed” renewable energy proposals from being built since a penalty would have been charged for those consumers who wanted to generate their own electricity but still had to rely on the wired grid to either place their excess generation or for purchase when their own systems did not work due mainly to a lack of sunshine or wind.
Second, a Senate Joint Resolution (SJR12) to amend the Indiana Constitution called the Right to Farm was surprisingly defeated 28-22 by the whole Senate. Opponents of the dubious measure called it the “Right to Harm” amendment since, had it passed, would have made it really difficult to enact any new ordinances, laws or rules designed to safeguard Hoosier air, land and water from even rogue agricultural interests.
Both of these victories were due to dogged opposition from grassroots Hoosiers who organized and fought hard for the last few months to correct the misinformation the Indiana Electric Association had given lawmakers about the defeated proposals. Valley Watch, and our partners, Sierra Club, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana NAACP, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, Hoosier Environmental Council and others worked in concert with numerous alternative energy businesses to achieve this hard earned victory. Valley Watch tips our hat to everyone who made calls and contacted their representatives about these onerous bills.
Alaska residents had the highest well-being in the nation in 2014, reaching the top spot for the first time since Gallup and Healthways began tracking well-being in 2008. West Virginia and Kentucky rank 50th and 49th, respectively, for the sixth consecutive year. Hawaii and Colorado are on the top 10 list of highest well-being states for the seventh consecutive year.
Alaska rejoins the top five in 2014 after being among this elite group from 2009 to 2011, while Hawaii finished in the top two for the sixth time, improving from the eighth spot in 2013. North Dakota tumbled from the top spot in 2013 to 23rd in 2014. North Dakota’s drop was mostly attributable to a drop in its residents’ overall life evaluation, coupled with worsened health-related behaviors such as higher smoking rates, reduced exercise and less healthy eating compared with 2013.
All of the 10 lowest well-being states in 2014 have frequented this list in the past.
These state-level data are based on more than 176,000 interviews with U.S. adults across all 50 states, conducted from January to December 2014. The Well-Being Index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 represents the lowest possible well-being and 100 represents the highest possible well-being. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state consists of metrics affecting overall well-being and each of the five essential elements of well-being:
Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily
Gallup and Healthways have been tracking well-being since 2008 and updated the Well-Being Index in 2014 to provide a more comprehensive measure of well-being. The Well-Being Index scores for 2014 are not directly comparable to the scores from prior years because they are calculated using the revised instrument and scoring methodology. However, state rankings for 2014 can be compared to rankings from previous years.
As in prior years, well-being in the U.S. exhibits regional patterns. The Northern Plains and Mountain West are higher well-being areas, along with some Western states and pockets of the Northeast and Atlantic. The lowest well-being states start in the South and move north through the industrial Midwest.
February 11, 2015 – by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory
February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.
In honor of SDO’s fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. Watch the movie to see giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun’s surface.
The imagery is an example of the kind of data that SDO provides to scientists. By watching the sun in different wavelengths – and therefore different temperatures – scientists can watch how material courses through the corona, which holds clues to what causes eruptions on the sun, what heats the sun’s atmosphere up to 1,000 times hotter than its surface, and why the sun’s magnetic fields are constantly on the move.
Five years into its mission, SDO continues to send back tantalizing imagery to incite scientists’ curiosity. For example, in late 2014, SDO captured imagery of the largest sun spots seen since 1995 as well as a torrent of intense solar flares. Solar flares are bursts of light, energy and X-rays. They can occur by themselves or can be accompanied by what’s called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, in which a giant cloud of solar material erupts off the sun, achieves escape velocity and heads off into space. In this case, the sun produced only flares and no CMEs, which, while not unheard of, is somewhat unusual for flares of that size. Scientists are looking at that data now to see if they can determine what circumstances might have led to flares eruptions alone.
Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program’s goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society. Continue reading →